I recently attended the release of Bellwoods Brewery’s Motley Cru 2014 (review to come shortly) of which there were around 1000 bottles. The beer itself definitely looks amazing (a 9.7% IPA blend aged in oak with brett for 14 months and then bottle conditioned with Champagne yeast for a further 2), but it was also an opportunity to involve myself in something which is becoming more common in the craft scene: one-day releases. My particular experience was quite good; I was there with my wife, the line moved fairly quickly and most of the attendees were friendly and knowledgeable.
However, as was seen earlier in the year, one-day releases can go very wrong. Even more successful events, such as Dark Lord Day, are criticized by attendees and the craft community generally for increasing cost and crowds. I should point out that the Bellwoods release was not on the same scale as other more notorious releases; there were no tickets sold and by the time I got there, about 30 minutes before the gates opened, there were maybe 100 people in line ahead of me.
One wonders then, whether the problems experienced by some brewers simply comes down to numbers. A brewery can handle a few hundred people at a time in a reasonably efficient and straight-forward matter. But several thousand guests require permits, security (especially forgery-proof tickets), extra staff and huge amounts of planning. Several breweries have eschewed brewery-only releases for their special beers. North Coast quickly put its barrel-aged, anniversary version of Old Rasputin into distribution following one or two brewery-only releases. From the outset, Surly put its much revered Darkness RIS into stores rather than handing it out in a one-day format. Even brews as limited as Great Lakes Brewing’s Beard of Zeus (>1000 bottles) have only been sold in retail stores.
Some have also criticized the idea of turning such releases into events or festivals. After all, at its core, the “event” is getting to buy a beer. Even as more entertainment and facilities are provided, for many, it is simply more money up front to buy the beer. Others are inherently put off by events where high-alcohol beer starts flowing so early in the day.
I am not personally opposed to one-day releases as a tool for a brewery to promote themselves. If the brewery is willing to take on the risk, cost and stress of such an event, then people can choose whether or not to attend. They provide a forum for some of the most important activities in the craft community like discussion, trading, meeting new beer fans and sharing an experience with friends. They provide a good excuse for a road-trip to places you would never otherwise visit and I can’t buy they argument that they present more of a danger then your average concert or sports game. No one-day release has ever caused a full-scale riot.
Ultimately, time will tell whether the one-day release is in its twilight or merely its infancy. It may be that they work better for crowds up to a certain size only. Thus, we may see more come up but few last as long as the old timers like Dark Lord Day. Either way, they are a unique experience and, from my limited exposure I would definitely recommend making the trip.